Bush receives update from Iraqi president
Iraq’s president met with President Bush in Washington on Tuesday, a visit coinciding with new appeals by administration officials and U.S. military leaders for Iraqis to take advantage of an American troop buildup to make tough political compromises.
President Jalal Talabani spent about an hour in the Oval Office with Bush, discussing “the importance for Iraq to move forward on national reconciliation,” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said.
The White House remains concerned, she said, that the Iraqi government has not completed work on a variety of measures aimed at decreasing sectarian tension, including an oil revenue sharing law.
The government also has failed to set a date for provincial elections and has made little progress on a measure to allow members of the late President Saddam Hussein’s political party to work in the current government.
Talabani reported to Bush that “he thought there was a good political environment right now for them to be able to move forward,” Perino said.
Speaking in Washington later in the day, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the day-to-day military commander in Iraq, expressed frustration with the pace of political reform.
Odierno said the troop buildup had improved security in Iraq and the number of attacks had decreased. But he said the Iraqi government had been unable to make progress.
“The time is now for the government of Iraq to aggressively follow up with essential services, economic development and political accommodation,” Odierno said. “A clear need for tangible and sustained Iraqi political action and success does exist today.”
The security improvements, Odierno said, have allowed some U.S. forces to begin shifting away from active participation in patrols and raids to more of a background role. He said that in parts of northern Iraq, including Mosul and Kirkuk, U.S. forces now remain outside urban areas, prepared to assist in the event of an emergency.
Meanwhile, U.S. Army officials also hope to ease the strain on their force by speeding up a major, multiyear expansion program. Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, who oversees recruiting, said Tuesday that the Army had enlisted about 80,000 new soldiers during the last 12 months, meeting its annual goal.
The service struggled to make its recruiting numbers this year. Still, Army officials said they hoped to add 4,000 soldiers to that enlistment target for fiscal 2008, raising their goal to 84,000 soldiers.
Freakley said a new program using National Guard soldiers to help recruit for the active-duty service should help the Army reach its goal.
Times staff writer James Gerstenzang contributed to this report.